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Step by Step

Better health requires some 'joint' efforts

By SALLY ANDERSON
Published August 31, 2004

"Oh, my aching joints!"

Joint pain and inflammation can lead to more than 100 forms of arthritis. It is the No. 1 cause of disability in the United States, affecting about 43-million Americans and especially more women than men.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of all adults have either been diagnosed with arthritis or have persistent pain, stiffness or swelling in a joint.

The most common form of joint disease is osteoarthritis, followed by rheumatoid arthritis. Twenty-million Americans are affected by osteoarthritis, which usually develops in people older than 45. Osteoarthritis often is referred to as the "wear and tear arthritis," because it wears away the cartilage that covers the bones in the joints. With rheumatoid arthritis, the synovial membrane that surrounds and lubricates the joints becomes inflamed, causing swelling and pain in the joints. Although this type of arthritis can appear at any age, it usually develops between the ages of 20 and 50.

We have hundreds of joints in our bodies and they are designed to connect our bones and provide freedom of movement, but the reality of joint vulnerability becomes apparent when repetitive-motion injuries begin to cause problems.

There are four types of joints, and each is responsible for a different body movement:

1. FIXED: Some joints, such as the skull, are fixed and don't permit any movement.

2. HINGE: This joint allows the bones to move back and forth, like a hinge in a door. The elbow and knee are examples of a hinge joint. The knee is the largest hinge joint in the body and is the one most injury prone.

3. PIVOT: This joint provides the body with rotating movements. The elbow is both a hinge and a pivot joint.

4. BALL AND SOCKET: This joint is found in the hip bone and shoulder, and is the most mobile joint in the body, allowing swinging and rotating movements. The hip joint is the largest ball-and-socket joint in the body.

Everyone should be concerned about protecting their joints, but it is especially important to people with arthritis. One of the most effective ways to preserve the health and extend the life of your joints is through exercise. Here are tips on how to give those joints a little TLC. (Always check with your physician before beginning an exercise program.)

1. Flexibility exercises help to maintain normal joint functions by increasing flexibility, range of motion.

Perform a variety of stretches for five to 10 minutes a day. Keep the movements slow and controlled; sudden jerking and bouncing can cause an injury.

2. Strength exercises will build muscle strength around each joint, helping to stabilize them.

Begin without weights, then add very light poundage and increase the intensity gradually. Include strength workouts three times a week.

3. Excess weight puts pressure on the joints. If you need to lose extra pounds, include low-impact aerobics such as walking, swimming or cycling at least 30 minutes every day.

Aerobic exercise promotes weight loss and reduces pressure on joints. It also increases the flexibility of the connective tissue and aids strength and endurance.

4. Respect pain. Recognize if the movement is too strenuous and back off. You could damage the joints if you try to work through the pain.

One key to healthy joints and overall fitness is to keep moving. You can reduce or even prevent pain and discomfort with simple movement.

- Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731 or send e-mail to slafit@tampabay.rr.com

[Last modified August 27, 2004, 10:49:05]

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